About 15 percent of Angelenos could see their water rates go up if they don't conserve water under a new rate structure approved Friday by the City Council.
The Department of Water and Power's current billing structure allows customers to use a certain amount of water before they are charged a higher rate. The amount is different for different categories of water users.
Under the new rates, which will go into effect June 1, the threshold for that increased fee will be reduced by 15 percent, and the higher rate will increase from $3.59 per hundred cubic feet to $5.19.
A hundred cubic feet is equal to 748 gallons, and the average Los Angeles household uses 1,200 cubic feet per two-month billing cycle.
Most residents are not expected to see their water bills go up, but some customers who use a lot of water -- expected to be about 15 percent of Los Angeles residents -- will pay significantly more.
DWP General Manager David Nahai said Los Angeles has made great strides with water conservation, but that the situation has gotten dire.
"We're doing a good job," he said. "It's just not enough."
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Coupled with a public awareness campaign that is still being fleshed out, city officials hope the new rates will encourage residents to take simple steps to reduce water consumption -- such as not leaving the water running while brushing teeth, making sure sprinklers work properly and taking shorter showers.
"This is not a revenue generator. This is not about raising rates," said City Council President Eric Garcetti, adding, "if we don't do this today, we lose the summer."
Hahn criticized the plan as "unproven," saying it was unclear whether the new structure would actually encourage water conservation.
"I just can't believe this is our best strategy," Hahn said.
Zine, meanwhile, characterized the rate hike plan as rushed.
"We don't have our act together for consumers ... we're going into a football game and we don't have a coach. How are we going to win the game?" Zine said.
City Council's approval comes just days after the board of directors for the region's water wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, voted to reduce water deliveries to its member public agencies for the first time since 1991, effective July 1.
Deliveries to most cities are expected to be reduced by about 10 percent.
"Up to 19 million Southern Californians this summer will feel the impact of a new water reality that has been in the making for years, if not decades," board Chairman Timothy Brick said in a statement.
Taken in consideration with cuts already made to agricultural customers and ground water replenishment deliveries, Southern California faces a water supply reduction of about 20 percent, according to Jeffrey Kightlinger, the MWD's general manager.
The MWD will penalize clients for exceeding targets, just as the city plans to penalize ratepayers whose exceed thresholds.
If the city had taken no action Friday, MWD price increases could have cost the city $150 million, Nahai estimated.
The DWP has sought to raise rates in the face of an ongoing drought and a 2007 federal court decision that limited the amount of water that agencies can draw from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought last summer. Today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who was meeting with Schwarzenegger, announced that the state will get about $260 million in federal funds for drought aid.
In February, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Nahai announced plans to impose rates aimed at cutting usage.
Starting May 1, customers will be able to call 800-DIAL DWP or log onto www.LADWP.com to find out how much water they need to save to avoid a higher rate.